Fay Jones – 2022 Loyal Address Speech

The speech made by Fay Jones, the Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, in the House of Commons on 10 May 2022.

It is a real honour to be asked to second the Loyal Address this afternoon, and an even greater one to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart). His was a pitch-perfect speech—an exemplar of how to do it—that undermined his status as a self-confessed old duffer. Members with more experience than me have seen many state openings, but this year’s is undoubtedly special. Despite Her Majesty’s absence this morning, the platinum jubilee is a lasting reminder of the Queen’s immense devotion to duty. I know that everyone in the House wishes Her Majesty a speedy recovery.

At last year’s Queen’s Speech, I sat up in the Gallery, as seats in the Chamber were especially limited because of the covid regulations. As I watched my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher), get to her feet, I remember thinking to myself, “All the best, Fletch. I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes right now,” but karma comes at us fast, does it not, Chief Whip? Unlike my northern friend, I have the honour of addressing a packed Chamber, with faces free of the burden of face masks. Much as I loathed wearing a face mask in the Chamber, they certainly helped me by hiding the looks of disinterest and abject boredom whenever I got up to speak. This year, however, the cameras are on, so Members should at least try to look as though they are enjoying this.

On being asked to second the motion on the Gracious Speech, I turned to trusted friends and colleagues for advice.

The Treasurer of Her Majesty’s Household (Christopher Pincher)

Name them!

Fay Jones

All in good time, Deputy Chief Whip. The instant reaction of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) was, “Oh my God, love. You’d better be funny.” My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) told me that I would be “a total mess.” Even my dad, a former Member and my inspiration in many ways, said after yesterday’s rehearsal, “Well, you’re going to have to tell the jokes better than that.” But that is actually better feedback than he gave me at the start of my political career, at my count in 2019. The result had been declared, and I took to the podium to make my acceptance speech. My mum was beaming in the front row, and I saw my dad move to the back of the hall, presumably to get a better view or to take a photograph. Just a minute or so into my speech, however, he had had enough, and he gave me the signal to wind it up and get off the stage.

With friends like those, I ran straight for the warm embrace of the House of Commons Library, where I discovered that I am the seventh Member from Wales to have taken part in the speech on the Loyal Address since 1874. I am the first woman from Wales and the first Conservative from Wales. However, I am very proud to say that my constituents in Brecon and Radnorshire have a long association with the Loyal Address. In 1975, one of my predecessors, Caerwyn Roderick, a senior figure in the Labour party, proposed the address. As Members will know, Brecon and Radnorshire is two thirds of the historic county of Powys, so with a proposer and now a seconder coming from the undisputed better half of the county, I wonder how my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) feels this afternoon, knowing that he is neither the “has been” nor the “will be” [Laughter.] I withdraw that, Mr Speaker.

My being asked to give this speech came as a surprise to many, most of all me. I was always afraid that I had torpedoed my political career long before it even began. In 2005, when I was at university, I shared a flat with a friend who was working on the campaign to make my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) the Conservative party leader. It was suggested to me and a few friends that wearing a pink T-shirt that said “It’s DD for me” would go down a storm at party conference. Turns out, it did! Sorry, David. So 14 years later, when I was asked at my selection meeting for Brecon and Radnorshire, “Have you ever done anything to embarrass the Conservative party?”, I had to say yes. I was later asked what I had learned from the incident, and I said that I do not look good in pink.

Today is a proud day for my constituency and my family. Apart from stints in London for university and working in Europe, I have lived my whole life in Wales. I was raised in a firmly Conservative household, and I think being a Conservative in Wales has helped me to develop the thick skin that I hope will get me through today. It certainly helped after last week’s results, anyway. In 2019, my hon. Friends the Members for Wrexham (Sarah Atherton) and for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie) and I became the first three women to be elected to the Conservative Benches representing Welsh constituencies. I like to think that the three of us were worth the 100-year wait.

While we have some difficult questions to answer and challenges to meet on the treatment of women in this place, it is imperative that we do not put anyone off becoming a Member of Parliament. Yes, the House of Commons is a strange place to work and, yes, sometimes some people do not realise that they are part of the problem, but despite that, this is a place where women achieve great things.

It was a woman who introduced the Autism Act 2009 —the late, and much-missed across this House, right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham. It was a woman who delivered the children’s funeral fund and who continues to be a pain in the Government’s neck on hormone replacement therapy—the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who I am sorry to see is not in her place today. It was a woman who secured inclusion in today’s Gracious Speech of the Government’s intention to license pedicabs right across the Cities of London and Westminster for the very first time—no prizes for guessing who that was. And it was a woman, long before my time, who stood up to the might of the unions, empowered council tenants to buy their homes and, 40 years ago this year, protected the Falkland Islands. It is important that we say today that a woman’s place is in the House of Commons. By the way, it was also a woman who got £20 million out of the Treasury for the global centre of rail excellence, made cyber-flashing a criminal offence and got the Ministry of Defence to scrap the closure of Brecon barracks—just saying! [Interruption.] Yes, of course.

As much as we must attract more women to this place, we must do our utmost to attract a wide range of talents, so that our Benches are filled with the plain-speaking common sense of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson), the distinguished professional experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Laura Farris) and, dare I say it, the political diplomacy of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis).

My Liberal Democrat opponents tell me that all I do is talk about farming and the military, so today I will keep them happy and do exactly that. During my maiden speech, I said that I felt I had won first prize in the lottery of life by becoming the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire. That is as true today as it was then. It is a glorious part of the world, stretching from the upper Swansea valley to just outside Ludlow. It is kept thriving by thousands of farmers, not trustafarian farmers who inherit their wealth, but the ordinary, mud-under-the-fingernail grafting farmer, who works year round to put food on our plates and give their kids a future.

The cost of living crisis is having a particular effect in rural areas. Costs of fuel and fertiliser are eye-watering, and that presents a real risk to our ability to feed ourselves. It is deeply tragic that it has taken war in Ukraine for us to focus on UK food security. If I do anything in this place, it will be to bang on about the importance of farming to this country—hence why I welcome the measures in the Gracious Address that will see British produce on tables around the world, and even the Online Safety Bill, which will protect the unsuspecting farmer from nefarious internet videos.

If you walk down the Watton in Brecon, Mr Speaker, as I know you have, you will see 24 trees honouring the 24th of Foot. A better name for them is the South Wales Borderers, and they fought at the battle of Rorke’s Drift, which was made iconic in the film “Zulu”. Whether Brecon barracks, the Sennybridge training area or the Navy’s outdoor leadership training centre in Talybont, my constituency is extremely proud of its military footprint. We are also home to the Cambrian Patrol, which is the Olympic gold medal in infantry training, a 60 km march for teams of eight over just 48 hours. He will be far too modest to tell you himself, Mr Speaker, but the Secretary of State for Wales is in fact a finisher of that event. So modest was he, so keen to keep his light under a bushel, that when we visited the Cambrian Patrol back in October, he brought his finisher’s certificate along with him and put it out on Twitter. It was dated 1987, and I took great joy in pointing out that I was two years old at the time—and I take great joy recounting it again now.

Over the years, many wrongs have been done to military veterans, and I applaud the efforts of those right across the House to correct that. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) has led on the Opposition Benches in that effort. On this side of the House, my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer) and for Wrexham have spoken for male and female veterans in ways few can match. So on behalf of the many veterans I represent—particularly those who served in Northern Ireland and who tell me that they have been frightened of opening the post for decades—I warmly welcome the inclusion of the legacy Bill in today’s Gracious Speech.

Let me conclude my seconding of the Loyal Address so that I can give way to the Leader of the Opposition. I know we are all delighted that he has not cancelled this afternoon’s speech—I warmly welcome it on behalf of my constituents.

Today’s Queen’s Speech contains a commitment to right the historic imbalance that has pervaded this country for too long, and to level up all four corners of the United Kingdom. It offers leadership in turbulent times, it looks to the long term, ironing out our challenges of food and energy insecurity, and it makes best use of our new-found legislative freedoms. It helps this country to stand tall on the world stage, as it has done for so long, and it is my honour to commend this Gracious Speech to the House.